'Wunnerful' music part of holiday show
by James Reaney
The London Free Press

Most Lawrence Welk fans probably know singer Ralna English joined the late U.S. band leader's TV family in 1969.

They may even know English grew up in Texas. But many Welk fans might be surprised by her rock 'n' roll-roots.
English joins other performers associated with the Welk TV show at Centennial Hall tomorrow night. Others on hand will include tap-dancing and marimba-playing Jack Imel, jazz clarinetist Henry Cuesta, Ava (Country Gal) Barber, Dick Dale and the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.
Years before entering the "wunnerful, wunnerful" world of Welk, English had established her Texas and rock 'n' roll claim to fame. Raised in west Texas, she once went head-to-head with Buddy Holly, the rock and roll legend from nearby Lubbock.
In the mid-1950s, when she was about 13, she began singing with a little group known as Ralna English and the Ad Libs. Holly was already active as a rockabilly performer and about two years away from recording That'll Be the Day.
English recalls going up against Holly at a Lubbock-area music competition.
"I started out singing with a rock 'n' roll band in junior high school," she says. "This was in Lubbock, Tex., long before Buddy was the huge star. We had a battle of the bands on Saturday night at the local (movie) theatre. I still have the plaque that I won. We beat Buddy and Joey Maudlin (bassist Joe B. Maudlin) and all those guys
"We had no idea Buddy was going to be this huge star. That was kind of a joke, that we beat him."
Another west Texas legend, the late Waylon Jennings, also shared the stage with English in that era. She learned to appreciate country music from Jennings and even sang backup on an early Jennings recording. Jennings played with a later edition of the Holly group.
English soon moved on to music closer to her true loves -- including jazz, pop and gospel.
Eventually, she starred with other members from The Lawrence Welk Show in 11 national TV specials. Along with her former husband and singing partner Guy Hovis, English was a Dove Award nominee for a gospel record. A recent English recording, My Favorite Love Songs, features big band hits from the 1930s and 1940s. These days, she is also a popular guest performer at the Champagne Theatre at Branson, Mo. Branson is also home to other Welk performers.
Welk was a U.S. bandleader who parlayed a combination of champagne stylings and easy-to-digest corn into huge record sales and a never-ending rerun gig on PBS-TV. The Welk TV show is still seen on more than 270 PBS stations in the U.S. Welk and his trademark "wunnerful, wunnerful" may be gone, but a family-corporate outfit, The Welk Group, Inc., has created the 2002 Christmas tour in the tradition of the annual Christmas television show once produced by Lawrence Welk.
"When Lawrence started out, he called this his 'musical family,' (but) he had no idea that we would truly, truly be a family," she says. "I've stayed in touch with everybody . . . We care about each other. We're concerned when things happen in our lives. We're there for each other."
Meanwhile, in recognition of her musical accomplishments long after that battle of the bands, English has a place on Lubbock's Buddy Holly Walk of Fame, along with other west Texan performers, such as Mac Davis, Tanya Tucker, Joe Ely, Roy Orbison and Jennings.
What: A Lawrence Welk Family Christmas, a show created in the tradition of the annual Christmas television show produced by the late Lawrence Welk and including performers associated with the U.S. entertainer
When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.
Where: Centennial Hall
Tickets and details: $42.50 and $39.50, plus applicable service charges; call 672-1967



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